In autumn 2018 a group of homeless leaders from Discontent City and Red Braid members (then called Alliance Against Displacement) broke into an abandoned school in Nanaimo, launching the Schoolhouse Squat.
We opened the squat in response to the court-ordered displacement of Discontent City, a tent city that at its peak had over 300 residents. We fought to transform languishing public property into safe, secure shelter for a community that saw their court-sanctioned displacement as a death sentence.
But the RCMP turned the school into a crime scene, preventing other homeless people from joining and protecting the large crowd led by white supremacist vigilantes wearing Soliders of Odin patches as they chanted to burn down the school. Then in the early morning, police raided the squat with dogs, and the Emergency Response Team in camo and balaclavas, arresting and charging all 27 squatters with Break and Enter. The Crown eventually decided to pick 4 housed organizers to pursue charges against, pulling from thin air the narrative that these 4 – Ivan Drury, Listen Chen, Mercedes Courtoreille, and Christopher Thompson – were the ringleaders of the collective action.
The Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district responded to the squat with a smear campaign, later claiming that the action resulted in nearly $75,000 of costs – a large chunk of which went to paying for private security to guard two abandoned schools and "property restoration" to a building that was initially intended to be demolished, before the school district decided it would be cheaper to shutter it.
Against the plans of the Schoolhouse four to take a “necessity defence” to trial, arguing that breaking into an abandoned publicly owned building is necessary to prevent immediate risks posed to people being displaced from Discontent City, Crown Council’s tough talk broke down. From initially ambitious charges of Break and Enter, rather than lesser charges more common for protest like trespass, two and a half years later the Crown instead offered a deal: dropping the Break and Enter charge in exchange for a guilty plea and a conditional discharge sentence for all those charged.
Conditional discharges free the four organizers to continue their struggles against the tyranny of property at the street level, rather than being tied up in still more protracted court processes.
But conditional discharges and the two and a half year long road through the courts to get here do have a financial cost. The court sentenced each organizer to pay $1000 in restitution to the school district, for a total of $4000. In addition to the restitution, Red Braid accrued $5,600 in lawyer fees during the two and a half year negotiation with Nanaimo Crown Counsel.
Your donation will help Red Braid recoup the costs imposed by the criminalization of direct survival actions in a growing poor people’s movement, and enable us to keep fighting to build the power we need to end homelessness!
To learn more about the squat:
The Volcano, Schoolhouse Squat criminal case ends with conditional discharge
Discontent City, Founding declaration of the Schoolhouse Squat
Isabel Krupp, Separating myth from fact about Nanaimo’s Schoolhouse Squat
Emily Luba and Cecile Revaux, Voices of collective power from Nanaimo’s Schoolhouse Squat
From Embers podcast, Schoolhouse Squat and Discontent City
- Eliot White-Hill
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